A/N: This is another Delena ship. Get on board, get on board. It's M because I roll like that. It's a little AU because, hey, I also roll like that. I don't let no stinking canon get in the way of my story, bebe. This is long and key-lime-pie filled. Forks a-ready? Dig in, precious.
It's funny how things work out. Little decisions, the tiniest things change the course of major events in ways nobody could have possibly foreseen. There are a thousand examples of it….the old proverb about the nail, the horseshoe, and the battle. The fable about a butterfly's errant flapping on one side of the world causing a hurricane's destruction on the other. The night Elena Gilbert stuffed a single stalk of vervain in the shallow little right-hand pocket of her pajama bottoms because her locket was gone and therefore could not be compelled to forget Damon Salvatore's confession of love.
"I need to say it once. You just need to hear it. I love you, Elena. And because I love you, I can't be selfish with you. Why you keep doing this—-I don't deserve you…but my brother does. God, I wish you didn't have to forget this…but you do."
When Damon had made his confession, she'd seen the pain, the absolute agony in his eyes. She'd stayed still at first from the shock of it. She'd known he'd had feelings of some kind for a long time. Hadn't everyone, hadn't even Katherine, said it was there? Still, she'd found it easy to put that unpleasant truth aside. There was always so much else going on, and he made it so easy for her to ignore, was always ready to cover up any act of kindness with a bit of jackassery following hard on its heels….
When the shock of it wore off and she realized that he meant to compel her, knew nothing of the vervain, she knew she was going to have to pretend. Perhaps it was a survival instinct that had kicked in, like some animal before a master predator. When she'd realized what he meant to do, what it had meant to him, she'd played along, prayed she could pull it off…. She'd gone docile before him even as she'd seen the tear slip down his cheek, mouthed the words back to him, felt him kiss her, and even though her strongest impulse had been to pull him into her arms to fight that pain, she'd let him go.
Because she recognized the situation for what it was. It was that rarest of all moments, a chance to see Damon with all his masks off, all the armor he wore instinctively to protect himself from the world removed, something he almost never chose to reveal to anyone shown to her this night only because he had been confident he could cover it again, make it disappear with a wave of his magician's hand. She had only seen flashes of it, glimpses of it before, but those moments when she'd seen that real soul behind all the bullshit and the flirtation, behind the savagery and the come-ons, Elena had liked that man.
And then of course something always happened.
He turned Matt's sister. Or Isobel. Or he snapped Jeremy's neck in a fit of rage.
But then the coin flipped and he killed for her, rescued her, brought back her locket….
She lay back on her bed staring up at the ceiling, at the pattern of shifting light and dark as the moon made shadows through the nearly-bare tree branches outside her window. She unconsciously twisted the charm he'd returned to her, worrying it back and forth on its chain as she turned the situation over and over in her mind.
Yeah. Damon…unsettled…her. This was a problem she never had with Stefan. Since the first meeting with him, the first time she'd even seen him, she had known what her feelings were for Stefan. They were simple, easy, pure water in a stream with no obstructions. With Damon, though….
There had always been something. From the first moment she had turned in the entryway of the boarding house and found him standing way too close to her, deliberately crowding into her personal space and challenging her, trying to throw her off-balance, she'd been aware of it.
She was also aware that he watched her. When they were at the Grill. When everyone was at her house. When just the three of them, she, Stefan, and Damon, were on the couches at the boarding house. Anywhere. All the time. She could feel his gaze on her sometimes like the touch of a hand, like fingertips running along her skin. Sometimes when she turned to look at him in accusation or question, he would glance away. Sometimes he'd just grin and arch his brow in a manner she was sure he thought enticing, inviting an acidic comment from her. Sometimes, though, the times that made her most uncomfortable, he met her challenge straight on, looked her over with something in his eyes that she would not name, refused to give him rights to with the naming, and held her trapped there, pinned there, locked in the depths of those unbelievably blue eyes until she was the one to look away at last.
So what do I do now? How am I going to pretend not to know this? It would have been so much easier if he had actually been able to compel me.
She rolled over onto her side, drew her bear into her arms and eventually tumbled into troubled dreams of blue, blue eyes that watched her from shadowed darkness. She did not feel the fingertip that gently stroked the hair back from her temple, but although she had gone to bed on top of the cover, when she awoke, she was neatly tucked in against the chill of the autumn morning.
"You can't be serious."
Stefan was moving around the room gathering information and sorting things into piles as they talked. He looked over his shoulder at her as he reached up to pull a heavy book off one of the shelves.
"Elena, I have to try it. Bonnie thinks it could work. She has to know more than she's telling. She always knows more than she's telling, and I really don't think she's going to tell Damon, do you?"
Damon smiled from where he lounged against the back of couch, and it really wasn't an especially pleasant thing to see. "Oh. I don't know. I can be so terribly charming when the mood takes me. I'm a natural people person with … powers of persuasion to move the heart…." His arms were crossed, and nobody missed his hands tightening into fists.
Stefan sighed. "Exactly. And we don't have time for you two to stand there and bicker with each other through that spell wall. We both know she's more likely to talk to me, don't we?"
Elena looked down at the shiny surface of the table beneath her hands. He was right.
It's logical. Totally logical. And it will probably work. Katherine will tell him anything if he pushes the right buttons. Of course, what he might have to do to push those buttons…. Thoughts of a hard right hook delivered to that smirking, pouting face that looked so much like her own were suddenly very satisfying indeed, and the fingertips that had been tracing patterns on the table curled slightly.
She took a little breath, and when she glanced up, Damon was observing her with one of his subtle, cat-like smiles.
Not funny, Damon.
She narrowed her eyes at him. His expression became one of outright amusement and he held up his hands in mock innocence, turning away to occupy himself with the ever-present supply of liquor behind him. She pushed her hair out of her face in annoyance, both that she'd had the thought in the first place and that Damon had so clearly read it.
He sees too much too often. Why can't….why can't Stefan see more sometimes?
As if on cue, Stefan put down the book, crossed the room, and drew her into his arms. She pulled him close, relishing that feeling of being safe that always came with being held by him. He kissed her gently on the forehead. Behind her she heard the sound of a heavy decanter thudding onto the table with less grace than the material deserved.
"Look, Bonnie can't keep undoing and redoing the spell. We've already established that avenue is closed to us. We were amazingly lucky last time. So, I'm going to have to try some different tactics this time."
Elena felt her heart shiver. "Like…what, Stefan?"
Stefan hesitated, and then lifted her hand to his lips. "Whatever it takes to get what we need. Whatever it takes to keep you safe." He pressed a slow gentle kiss to her hand and gazed up at her. Elena forced a smile. That's a deliberate non-answer. I recognize those when I meet them…. He's not telling me something. But….It would all be fine, right? It was Stefan.
As if on cue, Damon snorted, rolling his eyes. "Mm-hmm. Now if we've all had our sentimental moment, I do believe there are werewolf experts waiting on us… " He turned to Elena.
She leaned up and kissed Stefan, holding him as long as she could, mindful as she always was that it could be for the last time. Damon muttered something obscene just loudly enough to be heard and turned away from them grabbing his coat and walking out the door leaving it open as he went.
"Whenever you're ready. I'm not going to stand around all day and watch you two fornicate standing," he called back into the house.
Some little part of her could not deny the spike of triumph she felt at that. She ruthlessly kicked that part down and focused on Stefan again as she broke the kiss and looked up into his eyes. "Just be careful," she whispered.
Stefan smiled against her lips. His eyes flickered to the stiff back of his departing brother as Damon stalked down the walk to his car. "You, too," he replied. His arms tightened just a little, and then he let her go.
The blue convertible raced south along roads bathed in the golden light of late evening. Elena slept, her seat tilted back just a little, the wind blowing her hair slightly, strands of it teased across her cheeks and lips. Damon was spending as much time watching the enticing silhouette of her face and throat as he was the two-lane highway.
The desire to touch her was almost unbearably strong. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel, refocused his attention on the road for the three-hundreth time. Elena shifted in her sleep making a tiny sound. His eyes ripped back to her, devouring the way the light bathed her in the new angle.
One strand of hair, larger than the rest, blew across her mouth. She stirred restlessly at the irritation, her hands in her lap twitching in a precursor to rising to brush the strand aside.
Nope. Can't stand it.
He reached out and gently pulled the offending lock back with his index finger. As he did, her mouth opened on a little sigh, and the shift in position caused his fingertip to trail across her full bottom lip. She made another small noise, this one undeniably pleased at the touch, and he jerked his hand back as though burned as she turned toward the accidental caress. Her hand came up to wrap around his, and he grimaced.
Great, jackass. Caught in a trap of your own making. Now she's going to wake up and find you here like this, assume the worst, well, assume the obvious, anyway, and rip you a new one.
He looked down at her fingers clutched around his, reveled in the feeling of her cheek lying against his hand. That dark thing inside him laughed.
You know what I always say. In for a penny….
He gently stroked his thumb across her lips again, and when she turned her face trustingly into his hand to be touched again, he almost stopped the car then and there. Every single thing about her called to him. He hungered for her on every conceivable level: heart…mind…body…soul (he assumed there was still one banging around in there somewhere although he only ever really thought about this when he contemplated her)…blood…. From some impossible place, he dragged up a much-dented and incredibly-dusty angel of his better nature, shoved it forward, threatened it into doing its job.
No. Won't play by those rules. Not with her. No. Hands off.
And then her head moved against the seat back again, against his palm again, as she drew that fascinating lip between her teeth ever so briefly and released it on a troubled sigh. She murmured something. Even his vampire ears couldn't make out all the words as she spoke but one of them was... "Damon…."
And then again….
Glancing back at the road, he saw the turn-off for a rural road ahead, swung into it, stopped the car. Now he could focus all his attention on Elena. Careful not to wake her, he leaned down, studying her face, allowing the fingertips of his free hand to trace the contours he knew so well, trailed softly down her neck. He brought his thumb back up to rub against her mouth.
What IS she dreaming? How am I involved? Do I dare to hope it's good? Do I dare hope it's at least good and dirty?
"Damon," she sighed again, and her eyes opened. He froze as she focused on him.
Ah well. You knew this was too good to last. You knew that if she woke and caught you, hand in the cookie jar as it were, the best you could hope for was a slap in the face. Yet you did it anyway, didn't you? Well, get ready. Song's done; piper must be paid….
His mouth was open and the first breath was indrawn for the first sardonic comment when her hands twisted in his hair and pulled him down to her.
She'd been dreaming of her lover. It was not the first time she had dreamed it. She was being kissed by him most thoroughly, most expertly. Her lover was not gentle or sweet. He did not kiss her hand or treat her like a delicate flower. His hair was not copper. There was nothing of the puppy dog or white knight about him. The lover in her dream was all panther dark and ice blue as he stalked her, claimed her, possessed her.
So when she awakened and still those same cerulean eyes were there inviting her to drown again, perhaps she could be forgiven for remaining lost in the dream….
At first, Damon was so shocked that he did not move as Elena pressed her mouth to his. His reflexes recovered before his reason did. As the taste of her, something he'd been denying himself and dreaming of for so long came to him, he paused for just a moment to savor it, felt a shiver run through him. His eyes slid closed as she continued to seek a response from him.
That I ever was confused, that I ever thought Katherine was this…
His hand slid into the mass of her hair, cradling, tangling, and he took.
This dream was more vivid than any Elena had had before. She could feel the silk of Damon's hair sliding through her fingers. She could smell him, something enticing and clean. And the kiss. The kiss was burning her alive. Never in any of her dreams before had he kissed her like this. Never had anyone anywhere kissed her like this. Like she was an essential part of life. Like she was a form of worship.
His tongue slid into her mouth, flickering against her own, retreated, returned to claim, and never had any of her dreams been so fervent. She realized that she could also feel his hands, one of them cradling her face, one of them hot suddenly against the skin of her side just under the edge of her shirt, spanning wide. She could even feel the metal of his ring there as that hand circled, slid higher. And when his questing hand covered her over her lacy bra and she bit his bottom lip not-too-gently in response, she heard his shuddering little groan and saw the blue of his eyes flash as hot as a welding torch before he took her mouth again.
The intensity of this dream was such that she could even feel the gearshift pressing into her leg, an irritating separation between their bodies…..
Wait. Gearshift? Ohmygodohmygodohmygod….
He knew the minute it was coming. He knew the absolute instant whatever dream or spell or gift he'd been given ended. He saw the beautiful haze in her eyes lift, felt her stiffen against him, and he wanted oh, so desperately, something to kill.
Because she was mine. For a minute there, she was mine. Her taste on my lips, her body in my hands, Oh God. She was mine…. And by her own choice.
He felt her hand start to swing, and he caught it, pinned both arms down next to her head with indolent ease.
"Really? Because I mean you wouldn't want to be a cliché or anything…."
"Damon, let me go."
He could feel her heart pounding against him like a caged bird, could see tears in her eyes, and the pain and regret made him savage, made him feel like hurting someone in return.
"Mmm. Now why would I want to do that when we're all so cozy here? You didn't want me to let you go a minute ago. Give me another minute," He lowered his head, nuzzled his way up neck gently, "and I promise you won't ask me again..." The last mouthed against her ear. His voice was pure sex, that casual seduction he used almost without thinking on so many. The twisted little smile, the wide eyes were back.
She turned her head to the side, guilt ripping into her. "Please…" she whispered.
He'd expected a fight, had been prepared for it, spoiling for it, ready to take out his pain on her through it. Instead, there was only this. And Elena in pain was unbearable. He held her another moment only, let her go and moved away to his side of the car, and held his hands up to show that he meant her no harm.
She fumbled with the seatbelt, struggled with the door. He gently reached across her to pull the door lock up. Shoving open the door, Elena all but fell out of the car as she stumbled over the road right of way. She made her way across an open pasture's edge to sit under a large tree. The scent of the salt of her tears burned him like acid as did the tiny sounds she was trying to muffle with her hand stuffed into her mouth.
For his part, Damon was just going to let her cry, damn it.
Because no fucking part of this is my fault. So if she's upset, then…then…so be it. I did not kiss her first.
Elena's muffled sobs were not lessening.
I did not open my eyes and pounce on somebody unsuspecting. Well, not today, anyway….
The sound of it was like a little silver knife paring paper-thin slivers off his heart. He wrapped his hands around the steering wheel and continued his inner rationalizations, determined not to get out of the car.
I am not hypocritically pretending that I did not enjoy it. I am not…
He glanced in his review mirror at the tiny figure sitting huddled under the shifting shade, arms around knees, head down, shoulders moving.
I am not…. I am not… I am not believing I am getting out of this car after all of this. Jesus. I need to have my head checked.
She heard him coming, the crunch of his boots on old grass and leaves. She was aware that this was a sort of peace offering on his part on some level because Damon never made any sound at all when he moved.
"No, Damon. Go away. There's nothing you can say that can fix this."
He settled himself on the ground next to her.
"But you haven't even heard it yet." He made one of his ridiculous faces at her, and she knew he was trying, what that must be costing. "I promise. It's great."
For a moment she felt the tiniest of smiles tugging at her lips despite her misery, and then she looked away. Her happiness was instantly squashed.
Because maybe that's how this happened. Maybe I just can't be around him. Maybe that's why I dream of him. Maybe…
"You're going to drive yourself crazy doing that, Elena." His voice was quiet, all traces of mockery absent. "Sometimes there's not a why. Chalk it up to a phase of the moon. Sun spots. Aliens."
She rolled her head over on her knees. "Aliens?"
He grinned, and she could see the faintest hint of fang in it. "Well. I don't know about you, but I've heard of stranger things…."
She reached out and put her hand on his hesitantly. "Is this how we're going to do this, then?"
He looked at her in total seriousness. She felt his hand turn over under hers, his long fingers lace together with hers. "Do what?"
"Deal with it. You know what I mean. The car. The fact that I…that you…that we…"
"Oh. That." He shifted, rolled his eyes just a little. "I thought you were talking about something important."
"Do not be flip about this." Her hand tried to pull away, but his fingers tightened refusing to let go of the contact now that he had it.
"I think you're forgetting which brother you've got, honey. I'm the one who's flip about pretty much everything…."
"There are two ways to deal with this, Elena. Scenario one: you can take that lovely little vervain necklace off and I can hoodoo you. You won't remember a blessed thing." He leered at her and circled his thumb against her palm. "Nope, not… a… blessed… thing." She jerked her hand out of his, and he laughed softly, glad to see her ire returning.
That's my girl.
"And your next brilliant plan? I believe you said there were two. Or is the other one as good as the first?"
"I personally am even more a fan of option two. You'll have to judge for yourself, of course."
"Uh-huh." She was eyeing him suspiciously.
"Option two would involve you and me returning to the car and trying the kissing bit with you wide-awake…"
Her expression passed from merely suspicious to absolutely murderous, and he saw the muscle twitch he knew telegraphed a slap.
"…just so you have a baseline for comparison…"
And he let her hand crack across his cheek. He turned back to watch her stalking back to the car with a bitter grin on his face.
"Feel better now?" he yelled after her.
He was leaning against the side of the car when she got back to it, long legs and arms crossed, looking at her with that infuriating smirk on his face.
"Don't even…just…I don't…" Elena stopped to take a deep breath. She held her hand out in front of her in a warding gesture. "Just don't. Okay? Don't."
He rolled his eyes. "Look. One thing more and then I'm done. Call it option three if you like."
He could practically hear her teeth grinding, and some small part of him, some petty part of him he knew he should try to outgrow even at his age, enjoyed it just a little in this present circumstance.
"Option three would involve us both pretending that nothing happened."
She looked at him warily. "You mean…"
"It. Was. A. Kiss. That's all. It was not the end of the universe. I don't know what started it, or what hot little dreams of me you might have been having…"
"Damon," if words alone could kill, he'd be staked...
"…but I'm willing to put it aside if you are. I mean after all, what's one more deception among friends, right?"
She flinched, and he regretted his words just a little until she said…
"And you won't…won't tell Stefan?"
He raked his gaze over her, over the tear-stained face, over the lips still swollen from his kisses, over the body that had been his to touch not even an hour ago, and he smiled. It was the one with the broken glass in it. He bowed.
"Of course not, Elena. A lady's secrets and all that."
And he turned away and got in the car.
The hotel where they were staying in Florida had seen better days, but it was clean and quiet, so Elena had no complaints. Also, it was right on the beach, so she could look out her windows and see the endless rolling waves. It was soothing. Because of the age of the hotel, there were not individual balconies. Each room opened onto one long running balcony. That meant, of course, that even though they had parted earlier, since she was outside looking at the moonlight on the water, she was risking attracting the attention of…
"It's lovely, isn't it?"
He was standing too close to her as usual, so close his shoulder brushed hers as he leaned on the rail beside her. He was wearing a blue jacket he hadn't been in earlier when they'd gone to their separate rooms, a shirt in a paler shade of blue that made his eyes shine. She looked him over, and that slow predatory smile she knew all-too-well appeared.
"Like something you see, Elena?"
Yes. Damn him. Yes.
She made a face. "No. I was wondering why you changed clothes after dinner."
He laughed softly. "Well….Your bedtime is not necessarily my bedtime, precious. And we are in a place finally where I can go out and find someone appropriate to play with."
She turned that over in her head, found she didn't much care for it, looked back out at the uncomplicated movement of the tides.
"I…see." It hadn't occurred to her that he would leave her. It hadn't occurred to her that he would go out and…
"What? Don't like the idea that there might be women out there who would kiss me on purpose?"
The look she gave him should have dropped him where he stood. He was watching her now instead of the surging tides, back to the ocean, elbows resting on the railing. His head tilted, and he grinned.
Okay. Done with this. He can go find his little toy for the night then….
She moved to go back to her room only to find herself gently restrained. He had simply moved in front of her, blocked her way with his whole body, his hands resting lightly, lightly on her arms.
"Elena…okay. I'm sorry. Even for me, that was low. I admit it."
She shook her head, waved her hand vaguely at him, refused to look up.
"But you do make it so irresistible sometimes…."
Her eyes shot to his.
"Me? Me! What did I do? How did I do anything to provoke…" She broke off as she saw him laughing at her.
"Yeah. Great. Good. Wonderful. And thanks. All me. Going to bed now, Damon. You go have a field day. I have a phone call to make anyway." She shoved past him and slammed the French doors to her room shut.
He sighed and turned away to head out for what he hoped would be a night of forgetting his brother's girlfriend.